By Yusoff Ahmad Shariff
A LOW-PROFILE and unassuming Egyptian engineer/architect, Professor of Generations, Dr Muhammad Kamal Isma’eel (1908-2008) was a citizen of Egypt.
According to Egyptian geologist, Dr. Zaglool Al-Najjar, who highlighted this almost forgotten facet of history, Dr Muhammad Kamal was the youngest person in the history of Egypt to obtain the high school certificate, the youngest to get enrolled in the first royal school of engineering and the youngest to graduate from it. He was also the youngest student to be sent to Europe to obtain three doctorate degrees in Islamic architecture and to return and become the first Egyptian engineer to replace foreign engineers in Egypt. He was also the youngest to obtain the “Nile” scarf award and the rank of “iron” from the king.
He was the first engineer to undertake an expansion project for the (haramain) Makkah and Madinah mosques in 14 centuries since Islam was incepted.
He refused to receive millions of dollars as payment for his engineering design and architectural supervision, despite efforts by King Fahad and the Ben Laden Company. So when he was handed a cheque for of millions of dollars he told engineer Bakar Ben Laden: Why should I accept money (for my work) at the two sacred mosques? How can I face our Lord (on the Last Day ?)
He was a contemporary of the Kings of Saudi Arabia, from King Abdul Aziz to King Salman and an expert in designing and supervision (of engineering work) and he would not accept flatter (or compliments) from anybody for his duties, even if it was from the king himself. For such humility, he was most trusted and loved by King Fahad and King Abdullah.
He never married until he attained 44 years of age. His wife gave birth to only one son before she died, after which he remained single and devoted to full-time in worship until he died. He lived over a hundred years which he spent in the service of the two holy mosques, far from the limelight of the mass media, fame and money. It is the right of everyone to know about this architectural genius.
This genius has an amazing story in regards to the marble works he performed on the floor of the haram mosque for pilgrims to perform the tawaf or circumambulation. Marble, in particular, absorbs heat completely, and the most suitable kind can only be found in a small mountain in Greece. He travelled to Greece and signed a contract to buy a sufficient quantity for the task. It was only half of the quantity required.
He sealed the deal and returned to Makkah followed by the delivery of the white marble. He promptly supervised the placing of the marble on the floor of the holy mosque in Makkah until it was complete. After 15 years the Saudi government requested him to place a similar type of marble on the premises of the holy mosque in Madinah.
Engineer Muhammad Kamal said when the king’s office requested me to cover the premises of the Prophet’s mosque, I got very scared because there is nowhere else on earth to get this type of marble to cover its wide space except a small supplier in Greece from whom he had earlier bought half of the quantity.
He travelled to Greece and asked the director of the company about the balance of the stock. He said it had been sold off. When he heard this he became so sad to the extent that he could not drink the coffee that was served. He left the office and prepared to leave on the following day’s flight. So when he left the office, for no particular reason he asked the secretary who had purchased the rest of the quantity.
She said it was difficult to trace the buyer but Muhammad Kamal told her that as he had only one day before leaving Greece, he implored her to try to get the buyer’s contact and to get in touch with him if she was successful in doing so.
Why did he persist in wanting to trace the person who bought the rest of the marble? To Muhammad Kamal he felt that by doing so Allah SWT would make something happen.
On the next day, a few hours before he left for the airport, I received a call from the secretary who said she had found the buyer. Muhammad Kamal promptly went to meet the buyer, who happened to be a Saudi company.
He returned to Saudi and went to the company’s office to ask about the marble. They told him that it was still kept in stock.
Engineer Muhammad Kamal broke down and cried for, indeed, Allah SWT had arranged for such things to happen. The owner of the marble asked why he cried and Muhammad Kamal told him the full story and showed him the blank check given to him to write out whatever price deemed necessary for the procurement of the material.
The owner then declared that he would not accept even one dirham and instead said he would dedicate all the marble ‘fisabilillah’ – free for the sake of Allah SWT. For him, it was a realization that Allah had made him buy the balance of the marble from the supplier in Greece for no particular reason but to keep in stock until Muhammad Kamal came forth to carry out the work on the floor of the mosque in Madinah.